We All Come Together (to Kill)
Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering
At this point it's hard to know what to expect from the Children of the Corn series. We've gone through various forms of supernatural and slasher horror, but no two films have been related in any meaningful way. At this point, in this fourth film in the series, The Gathering, we're not even bothering to maintain the most basic connection to the original location of the previous films, the town of Gatlin. We're down, now, to creepy kids and murderous preteen preachers.
What I struggled with this time around wasn't the quality of the film -- it's about average for a direct-to-video Slasher flick, and this one is the closest we've come to a proper slasher flick in the series yet -- but the fact that this barely feels like a Children of the Corn movie (which may be why it didn't suck as much as it could have). It's neither as bonkers, nor as all-out stupid as the rest of the films in the series so far. And it leave you to wonder, "if it features creepy kids killing around corn fields, is that enough to be part of this series?"
The movie opens with Grace Rhodes (Naomi Watts) returning home from med school to take care of her mother, June (Karen Black). June is an agoraphobe who, now, is also suffering from night terrors and paranoia. Forced to stay home for at least a semester, Grace helps around the house, taking care of her two siblings, Margaret (Jamie Renee Smith) and James (Mark Salling). She also gets her old job back at the Grand Island town clinic, working as a med tech under Doc Rob Larson (William Windom).
It's a good thing she's there, too because almost as soon as she arrives all the kids in town come down with a fever. The clinic is stretched thing taking care of all the young ones... but then just as quickly as it arrives it disappears. That, however, is when the real problems begin as the kids stop acting like themselves and, instead get all murderous. They forget their names, start saying their other people, and talk about salvation and the evils of men. As the mystery unfolds, Grace begins to suspect that her sister, Maggie, may be at the center of it, and the only question is what's going on and why?
As a slasher flick, Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering isn't all that bad. It's not great, mind you, but it does about hat you'd expect from this mid-1990s fare. It's has decent kills in a few places, even if they aren't the most remarkable -- the number of crucifixion-style kills is surprisingly high in this film, like the production team thought it was cool and subversive and then over did it way too much. That said, there's also a decent bit of gore, and if the film isn't as scary as it could have been it does have a general creepy vibe.
The acting, too, is pretty decent. The star of the show is certainly Naomi Watts. This wasn't her first big role (if we can call a direct-to video sequel to a low-budget horror film a "big" role) as she'd been in a number of other small movies before this one (including Tank Girl the year before). That said, the actress hadn't really had a breakout role but you can see here that she certainly could do better than this movie. She's solid here, really getting into her character and carrying the weight of this stupid movie on her shoulders. The fact that the film is at all watchable is because she's in the lead role.
The issues are two-fold. The first is that the movie plays itself like a mystery, hiding the reasons for why the children have gone bad and why they feel the need to kill. It's all due to supernatural means (as if ghostly kids and flying torture implements showing up throughout the film weren't a tip off). Apparently, decades earlier, a child preacher has reached some prominence in the town and, after convincing many of his flock to go bad and start killing, the kid preacher was burned to death and buried deep in a well. Some idiot, though, goes stumbling around that well and awakens the evil spirit and that's why all the kids go bad: they've become possessed by his evil, ghostly flock.
Is there any development this before the big reveal? Not really. We don't get little snippets of back story throughout to help explain, in a natural manner, what's going on. Instead we get a late-movie info dump that explains everything to us in one shot. It reeks of the writer not knowing how best to convey the story, writing themselves into a corner because they can't find any other way to do it. It's just bad writing, stopping the movie dead so it can tell us, in great detail, why everything is happening. Frankly, I zoned out for a bit during the scene, which should tell you just how bad this scene is.
But then we get another connection that is just dropped on us. The child preacher was a the bastard son of a local woman, left out in the cold and unloved and unwanted by his family. Now, all these years later, he needs a host to regain corporeal form and it has to be another child like him. It's only once this tid bit is revealed that we finally learn that Margaret, Grace's "sister", is actually Grace's daughter. This is a key plot point that would have explained a lot for the movie but, again, it's just let out at the last possible second as a way, I guess, to make a connection between Grace and the events in town. Again, it's bad and lazy writing.
And, as I noted before, there's absolutely no connection to the previous three films at all. There's no mention of Gatlin, to discussion of He Who Roams Nearby the Corn Fields (or whatever they're calling the god this time). The only thing we have is an evil child preacher and a whole lot of death. They could have called this movie anything, really, and it would have had the same impact. The simply attached the "Children of the Corn" name to this movie to try and sell it better, but it hardly works at all.
I'm not going to try and say that these films have to really work hard to exist, but this film actually wasn't bad up to a point. But between the lazy writing, exposition dump end sequences, and hardly any connection to the overarching series, it is a bad Children of the Corn films. It's passable as a Slasher flick, at best, but not something I figure most movie watchers will care about at all. Those that do watch it will likely barely remember it minutes after they've turned off the video.